handsome residence; but she was a rheumatic cripple, impotent, foot and hand, and had been so for twenty years. She always sat up-stairs: her drawing-room adjoined her bedroom. I had often asked of Miss Marchmont, and of her peculiarities (she had the character of being very eccentric), but till now had never seen her. I found her a furrowed, grey-haired woman, grave with solitude, stern with long affliction, irritable also, and perhaps exacting. It seemed that a maid, or rather companion, who had waited on her for some years, was about to be married; and she, hearing of my bereaved lot, had sent for me, with the idea that I might supply this person's place. She made the proposal to me after tea, as she and I sat alone by her fire-side.
"It will not be an easy life," said she candidly, "for I require a good deal of attention, and you will me much confined; yet, perhaps, contrasted with the existence you have lately led, it may appear tolerable."
I reflected. Of course it ought to appear tolerable, I argued inwardly; but somehow, by some strange fatality, it would not. To live here, in this close room, the watcher of suffering—sometimes, perhaps, the butt of temper—through all that was to come of my youth; while all that was gone had passed, to say the least, not blissfully! my heart sunk one moment, then it revived; for though I forced myself to realize evils, I think I was too prosaic to idealize, and consequently to exaggerate them.
"My doubt is whether I should have strength for the undertaking," I observed.
"That is my own scruple," said she; "for you look a worn-out creature."
So I did. I saw myself in the glass, in my mourning dress, a faded, hollow-eyed vision. Yet I thought little of the wan spectacle. The blight, I believed, was chiefly external: I still felt life at life's sources.
"What else have you in view—anything?"
"Nothing clear as yet: but I may find something."
"So you imagine: perhaps you are right. Try your own method, then; and if it does not succeed, test mine. The chance I have offered shall be left open to you for three months."
This was kind. I told her so, and expressed my gratitude.